Molalla River School District

After a long talk today with the Vice Chair of the MRSD, Karyn Gibbons, I came away with respect for Ms. Gibbon’s knowledge of the District and better insight into veracity of the “we need a new middle school” campaign. I came away with the same  belief I had before we talked, that while a new middle school would certainly be nice, it isn’t essential to the health of the students or perhaps even necessary in light of the shrinking student numbers in the district. It’s time to move beyond “we want” to “we’ll figure out how to make do with what we have” for the District,  just like the vast majority of American families must do every day.

Ms. Gibbons explained that while the Jr. High is certainly not in good repair it is NOT a proven health hazard to any students.  Most of all, I was impressed with Karyn’s honesty about the various possibilities that might be considered to best use the existing infrastructure to serve the District in a time of ongoing diminishing enrollment.

Ms. Gibbons fully acknowledged that District’s 2009 demographic study is following the “low” growth path and that it is likely to be the fact of the future – the District is losing students and is not likely to attract growing numbers of young families in the future.

We discussed the benefits of K-8, the difficulties of restructuring to K-8 and ways the current buildings might also be used to house more grades. Today’s Oregonian outlines the Governor’s school funding concerns, including the need for public schools to find creative ways to plug the funding gaps. The Governor puts forward the idea that we need to establish more charter schools.

I would also like to see schools promote earlier programs for qualified students to move to Community Colleges instead of filling seats in local schools. That way, students move on to higher learning faster and free up space in the local schools. Ms. Gibbons and I disagree on that one – she wants to keep the numbers up in local schools to keep programs going – however, if we can’t afford all the programs, why not move the students capable of Community College work to college as fast as possible? Then the High School could establish better programs for the students not capable or interested in college – trades have been woefully absent from American education for decades. Why not provide students who are not college bound better real world skills? Why not more alternative programs for diverse learners?

I’m impressed with Ms. Gibbon’s leadership skills, her patience and her ability to outline both problems and strengths of the District.  Ms. Gibbons, like me, is not a fan of using children’s’ letter writing campaigns as emotional blackmail to twist the arms of adults. I believe Ms. Gibbons will make a sincere effort to assemble HARD FACTS about the shrinking student census, the number of viable classrooms, and, hopefully, a diverse menu of “what if” scenarios – including ways the MSRD can make do with existing infrastructure if a bond measure fails in the fall.

Both Ms. Gibbons and I agreed that it is time for eyes wide open about the state of the economy and the difficulty in passing money measures in greater Molalla. The fact that the past bond measure failed in 2006 bodes ill for any tax “asks” in this economy – or, as the Governor notes, the “Great Recession”. I will rest assured that in the likely event of failure, level-headed representatives like Ms. Gibbons will lead the MSRD forward using available funds and resources to the highest level possible.

In the mean time, it is essential for hard cold facts about student numbers, costs, the possibly of restructuring to enter into the “we need a new middle school” campaign. I was left with the understanding that the District is allowing the parents – the community – to take the lead.

Both Ms. Gibbons and I acknowledged that in this community in these financial times it will be an uphill battle to pass any tax measure – even one that is “just” a renewal of current bond levels. Exaggerations about the state of the middle school will only make voters distrust the District. I hope the “positive thinker” parents extend their “positive thinking” into looking for ways, in a shrinking economy with a shrinking local student census, to have a plan “B” and a plan “C” to help the District restructure to make do with current facilities and budget in the likely event the greater Molalla community votes “NO” in the fall.

The need is great in our communities at every turn – for health care, for food, for housing, for money to pay for personal utilities, for social services. The schools and parents will need to understand that a new junior high is not at the top of a lot of local people’s primary needs list. It seems very far-fetched to hope for a “yes” in the middle of the Great Recession – a Recession that Oregon State leaders expect to last at least for the next decade.

We’re all making do with less and less. I think we are lucky to have a heads up, realistic, accountable leader like Ms. Gibbons looking out for the bottom line. I appreciate that she sees the big “reality”picture without rose-colored glasses and doesn’t threaten all or nothing choices. That’s refreshing in Molalla!

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